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Core Curriculum

Students must complete the course requirements for one of the program’s curricular tracks. Most coursework is completed during the first year. All incoming doctoral students take Graduate Boot Camp and Graduate School Fundamentals courses during their first quarter.

Lectures in molecular biology, cell biology, and genetics that provide an advanced foundation in these fundamental disciplines are complemented by small group discussions with faculty moderators focused on the critical evaluation of the primary scientific literature.

Flexibility for each student to pursue individual interests during the first year is provided not only through rotations, but also through elective courses.

Once the core course load is completed, students are encouraged to take other courses that enhance their education and research experience.

See a complete list of graduate level courses offered in the Division.

Rotation Program

A series of six‐week rotations allows students to sample research across the biological sciences and obtain mentored training in general and specialized research methods and approaches.

Laboratory research meetings and research seminars provide training in effective scientific communication, while also introducing students to the research community at UCSD and the Salk Institute, including advanced graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, and prospective thesis advisors.

Students complete a minimum of four rotations (by the end of the Winter quarter), after which they are eligible to request to join their selected dissertation lab.

Students may opt to complete more rotations during their first year, but all students will have joined labs by the end of June.

Graduate Instructional Apprentice Program

One important goal of our program is to provide our students with the training and mentorship that will enable them to become experienced and effective teachers of science at the college level.

Independent of ultimate career path, we expect all students will develop a high regard for excellence in teaching as well as research.

Our program also develops each student’s ability to convey ideas accurately and persuasively in a variety of contexts and hones their skills to make presentations with poise and impact.

The program requires each student to assist as a Graduate Instructional Assistant for a total of three courses, one of which must be a laboratory course, during their graduate career.  Typically, students assist in this role in one course in each of their second, third and fourth years in the program.

More information about the Instructional Apprentice Program.

Additional Coursework

In addition to the core curriculum, students are expected to complete other requirements to help develop into leaders in their selected field.

  • Scientific Ethics – Students must complete a course in scientific ethics which is normally taken in the Spring quarter of their second year.
  • Graduate Student Seminars – We feel it is critically important for students to practice their presentation skills. We offer a course, BGSE 205, in which students, beginning in their second year, present their research to a group of their peers and faculty mentors.
  • Journal Clubs - Most students actively participate in a journal club of their choice in order to discuss recent papers with many members of the scientific community, including other graduate students, postdocs and faculty from neighboring institutions.

Spring / Annual Evaluation

Doctoral students in Biological Sciences are formally evaluated on an annual basis. There are two components to the evaluation process. These processes occur in tandem during the Spring quarter and consist of the BioSci Program’s  Annual Evaluation requirements, which include an Annual Meeting, along with the Graduate Division’s  Spring Evaluation, which is an online evaluation survey required by Graduate Council policy. The campus deadline for submission of all evaluation components is the last day of Spring Quarter.

The Annual and Spring evaluation processes are intended to provide an assessment of the student's completed research while also facilitating discussions that encourage the student throughout the program. Students and their doctoral committee work together during the annual meetings to redefine project goals and expectations to ensure progress to degree according to the program timeline. Please refer to the Annual Committee Meeting Instructions applicable to your cohort year located in the table below for details.

Overview of BioSci Program Annual Evaluation Requirements

Overview of BioSci Program Annual Evaluation Requirements
Cohort Year BioSci Annual Evaluation Requirements Annual Committee Meeting Instructions
1 st Year First Year Exam The First Year Exam, occurring in the summer, takes the place of an Annual Meeting. First year students are still responsible for completing Graduate Division's Spring Evaluation, which will be routed via @ucsd email.
2 nd Year Proposition Exam Meeting – Core Thesis (3 member) Committee submits the 2nd Year Proposition Exam [PDF]  feedback form to the Graduate Committee; Individual Development Plan (IDP)

Year 2 Committee Meeting Instructions

3 rd Year Annual Committee Meeting or Advancement to Candidacy meeting; Individual Development Plan (IDP) Year 3 Committee Meeting Instructions
4 th Year Annual Committee Meeting or Advancement to Candidacy meeting; 4th Year Path-to-Graduation Plan; Individual Development Plan (IDP) Year 4 Committee Meeting Instructions
5 th+ Year Annual Committee Meeting; Individual Development Plan (IDP) Year 5+ Committee Meeting Instructions
Thesis Defense If completing the pre-defense meeting during Spring quarter or summer (regardless of year in program), this will become the evaluation. The pre-defense form needs to be signed by all committee members. Year 5+ Committee Meeting Instructions (thesis defense)

Best Practices for Annual Committee Meetings and Spring Evaluations:

  • Student should complete their question and comment portion of the Graduate Division's Spring Evaluation prior to the Annual Committee Meeting.
  • Prior to any committee meetings, students are also expected to submit a written report of research and progress for review by the advisor and committee.
  • At the conclusion of the Annual Committee Meeting, the faculty members can then log into the Spring Evaluation Tool to review, comment, and sign the evaluation, which is then routed back to the student for signature.
  • Students and faculty will find the Graduate Division Spring Evaluation here:
  • Roles and responsibilities of each member of the Doctoral Committee can be found on the Academic Advising page.

Please see the Individual Development Plan section for information on that portion of annual requirements.

Additional related forms and resources

Download to complete and route for signatures:

Forms can be returned using the links below. Log in with @ucsd credentials is required.

Individual Development Plan

In addition to preparing for the committee Annual Committee Meeting portion of the Annual Evaluation, all students in the program (2nd year and beyond) will work with their thesis advisor to develop an Individual Development Plan (IDP). These are meant to help define career goals and identify skills that need to be developed to help students be successful in graduate school and beyond.

Several templates are available. Students should consult with the Thesis Advisor regarding choice of template.

Students should finalize the IDP and meet with their mentor(s) (which could include the thesis advisor and others) before the Annual Committee Meeting. An IDP is required for all trainees supported by US federal funds, which effectively means all students. Students do not have to share the IDP with the committee, but the Thesis Advisor will need to verify that the IDP is complete on the online annual evaluation form.

Dissertation Requirements

The PhD is awarded once a student has completed the dissertation and conducted the oral defense.

The defense is facilitated by the thesis advisor and doctoral committee. The dissertation must be organized and written in a form approved by the thesis advisor and the dean of the Graduate Division.

The dissertation defense is an examination that consists of a pre-defense meeting with the doctoral committee followed by a formal presentation of the research in a public divisional seminar.


Graduate Division began using DocuSign in May 2020 for processing Academic Affairs forms. Forms are owned by the Graduate Division, so beyond form initiation, biology staff cannot manage forms or send reminders. This means that it is the responsibility of students and faculty to take note of DocuSign emails and to sign documents in a timely manner, to avoid unnecessary stress in missing University deadlines.

Kinds of forms that will now be signed via DocuSign:

  • General Petition
  • Report of the Qualifying Examination and Advancement to Candidacy for the Doctoral Degree
  • Final Report of the Final Examination and Filing of the Dissertation for the Doctoral Degree
  • Dissertation / Thesis Signature Page / Final Report

Some suggestions:

  • DocuSign emails may look like spam or may go to junk folders; please check that DocuSign (specifically: is in your and your faculty’s, ‘known sender’ list.
  • Instructors must use UCSD Active Directory (AD) credentials (, when logging into
  • Students in Salk or labs outside the Division should double check that their advisors/committee members are aware of the need to use UCSD single sign on credentials. Information about DocuSign has been emailed to all Biology/Salk faculty and BS/MS advisors, but it is not possible to email all committee members, so it would be wise to confirm with all committee members that they are aware of how DocuSign works.
  • DocuSign emails have links to the forms, but faculty can always log in to to check their ‘action required’ list. Some forms may not appear until previous signatories have dealt with them.
  • For further inquiries about initiated forms or form reminders, please reach out to the Academic Affairs team in the Graduate Division.
  • For technical issues, contact the DocuSign help desk at
Download the 2020-21 Graduate Student Handbook